Posted in Headlines, Music, Politics, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 15 Murder Most Foul

On January 31, 2020 Representative John Delaney of Maryland officially dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Who?

In June of 2019, Joe Biden skipped the Democratic Convention in California to publically display his disdain for the progressive direction of the Democratic party and exhibit his firm belief that the identity politics of 2008 are the future of the party.

Someone had to represent the interest of the party status quo, the insurance companies, and big pharma. Delaney did just that, contrasting his hopeless campaign strategy with views of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others on the party’s left. By July 2019, Delaney along with a dozen and a half the other presidential hopefuls participated in the Democratic Primary debates in Detroit, MI. Again, it seemed Delaney’s main agenda was poking any holes possible into any healthcare proposals that resembled Medicare for All. Delaney found his chief adversaries in Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But, sometimes you just can’t stop the shining.

In what was once the widest, most diverse, Democratic primary race ever, the old white guy from Maryland had served his purpose. By November 2019, after some very contentious primary debates and public criticism, Sen. Warren had finally laid out a bizarre healthcare plan, that leaned away from Medicare for All.

During the early months of 2020, while the Trump administration was tragically mishandling information about coronavirus, the Democratic party was manhandling a primary to make sure the status quo is preserved: Between November and March, Mike Bloomberg came and went. Joe Biden had a surprise win in the South Carolina Democratic primary on February 29. On March 1, Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race. March 2, Amy Klobuchar dropped out as well. Klobuchar and Buttigieg both endorsed Biden. With party leaders rallied around Biden, he won Alabama, Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia on Super Tuesday. On April 7, despite the COVID-19 outbreak, the Wisconsin primaries were held, putting thousands of lives in danger. On April 8, Sanders suspended his campaign making Biden the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee.

Back in March, while a Nazi flag was being waved at the rally of a Jewish presidential candidate, mainstream media chose to ignore that story in favor of hard-hitting exposés about Bernie Bros, the dirtbag left, and snake emojis. March was a rough month. And as some US states pivot toward reopening, the worst is likely yet to come. But somewhere in between the waving of swastikas at a Sanders’ rally and Bernie suspending his campaign in early April, Bob Dylan released a 17 minute long, new song on March 27, titled “Murder Most Foul.”

Murder was the first original Dylan song the world heard since the release of his 2012 album The Tempest. Shadows in the Night (2015), Fallen Angels (2016), and Triplicate (2017) were all covers and reworkings of traditional songs. What could bring the 2016 recipient of The Nobel Prize in Literature out of retirement?

The day that they killed him, someone said to me, “Son
The age of the Antichrist has just only begun”
Air Force One coming in through the gate
Johnson sworn in at 2:38
Let me know when you decide to thrown in the towel
It is what it is, and it’s murder most foul

Now the ” age of the Antichrist ” is in full swing. In 2020, Oligarchs don’t need a patsy. You don’t need Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby when you have John Delaney and Joe Biden. In the world of social media, purposeful disinformation campaigns, and corporate-owned Cable News Networks in bed with either the GOP (FOX) or DNC (MSNBC & CNN), character assassination is all political pundits need to aim, fire and destroy those dirty, filthy, socialists, Russian loving, snake emoji tweeting, liberals! They must hate women!

Actually, people are universally pretty shitty toward women. That is not unique to any social, religious, or political affiliation or leanings. But this is not about Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or even a rising star like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who has been drafted for the Biden train).

This murder was about power. It was about who gets to cast the narrative.  The U.S. Representative for California’s 53rd congressional district sold shares in Alaska Air and Royal Caribbean cruise lines on Feb11!!! This time mainstream media compared the supporters of a Jewish candidate to the stormtroopers of the Nazi Party. Then the media cast Sanders himself as a Russian asset insurgent over and over again. Trump derangement syndrome has a whole party fighting, scratching, and clawing over each other to prove who is the truest, pro-big-bank, pro-corporate, anti-Medicare candidate… for all. This was a character assassination not merely of Sanders, Warren, or other progressive officials. This was a character assassination of progressives in the United States. Anyone left of the center would not be standing when all was through. It happened so quickly – so quick by surprise right there in front of everyone’s eyes. Or, maybe its been happening over and over for the last 50 years.

Posted in Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 14 Higgs Boson Blues

In 2013, 477 years after John Calvin was recruited by William Farel to join the Reformation in Geneva something else was happening in the city of predestination, barbecued Servetus, the United Nations, and the Red Cross.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research discovered a particle believed to imbue elementary particles with mass. Despite some consternation in the scientific community, the term “god particle” first coined by Dick Teresiin 1993, became the in vogue language for talking about the “Higgs Boson.”

Nick Cave is one of my favorite Singer-songwriters of all time. I discovered Cave when I was in seminary. My friend Ryan loved him and made me listen to Dig Lazarus Dig my first year in seminary. I soon jumped into the back catalog and discovered what was my favorite Nick Cave song until Higgs Boson Blues was released.

The 1997 single, “Into My Arms” held the title of “my favorite Cave song” for a long time. It’s still pretty high up on an increasingly long list for me. Through his art, Nick Cave loaned me a new vernacular to talk about spiritual things: “I don’t believe in an interventionist God,” he sings on the haunting ballad. Well, neither do I, at least 99% of the time.

Cave remains a very interesting figure, and an artist I turn to for inspiration His work often serves as a soundtrack and a bit of a sounding board, when I am pouring out my own heart in writing, albeit in a different artistic medium. In 2010, when I was still fairly new to Nick Cave, he described the spirituality that emerges in his music and distinguished it from Christianity and religion in general:

I’m not religious, and I’m not a Christian… but I do reserve the right to believe in the possibility of a god. It’s kind of defending the indefensible, though; I’m critical of what religions are becoming, the more destructive they’re becoming. But I think as an artist, particularly, it’s a necessary part of what I do, that there is some divine element going on within my songs.

In “Higgs Boson Blues,” Cave evokes images of burning trees lining the streets, genocide, and Miley Cyrus. He laces all of this with multiple references to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Is Cave lamenting or celebrating his “indefensible” sense of divinity in a world where the binding for sub-particles can be seen and god cannot?

The song itself is full of wonder, longing, even fear. Anything but an obnoxious certainty. It seems an appropriate existential “hymn” for our chaotic world and this particular moment in history, drenched in fear, longing, anxiety and wonder about what it means to be human. Of course, these are questions that can never be fully answered by religion or science, John Calvin or the Higggs Boson. No one person, source or belief system has all the answers to our deepest questions. But I like to keep this in mind for times when Im singing and dancing along with Cave and not sure if it’s joy or despair that I feel:

The Tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal name
~ Tao The Ching: 1

Posted in Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 13 Junk Town

As the efforts to slow coronavirus in the United States drag on and some states begin to reopen, people are sick of being constrained to virtual interactions with real people. It seems Zoom fatigue is setting in. I have noticed the swift change as Spring begins to bloom and people grow anxious to leave their houses and have different types of interactions. I host a virtual open mic that had a terrific kick off last month. We were filling a void of weekly interactions at open mics. But in just the last two weeks it seems that interest is already beginning to wane.

This past Sunday, some folks in the US began meeting for public worship again. And in the coming weeks, more churches are sure to reopen. I haven’t really participated in a Sunday Worship service since my last time serving communion in June of 2014. In January of 2019, I finally demitted from my status as an ordained “Minister of Word and Sacrament” in the Reformed Church in America. So I will not be in church this Sunday or anytime soon. I’ll probably be home listening to Ian Noe.

I have written before about how much I love Ian Noe and his debut album, Between the Country. Almost all of Noe’s cast of characters share a similar longing. In the stories of substance abuse, religious yearning, bank heists, unrequited love, and even violence it would be easy – perhaps too easy – to name this shared longing as a desire to escape. While similar, there is also a substantial difference between escape and what these folks – hurting, broken, or even evil – truly long for, namely transcendence.

The narrator in the sorrowful and gospel-infused Junk Town recounts being stuck in the same dead-end place for most of his life: “Spending all my money on me and my junked-out wife.” He laments the cold winters that “never did anybody any good” and “burning up in the summer, hauling those heavy loads.” He and his wife have been “junkin’ through many troubled years” in an effort “to keep away those cold sweat fears.” But the drugs are not their ultimate hope:

And glory, glory
We are waitin’
That sweet someday
When we leave our troubles
And are taken
So far away

Escape is about leaving, departing, going somewhere, anywhere else. Transcendence is about liberation, evolution, changing yourself, or transforming your surroundings. When I was a conservative evangelical Christian, I thought the work of liberation was all about personal piety and transformation and getting others to join the club. When I was a progressive Christain, I thought liberation was all about confronting and if possible, transforming corrupt powers and institutions: the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this present darkness. I don’t have an accurate one-word signifier to describe what I believe these days.

But I can say, it’s all more terribly complicated than I once thought. Systems and individual people within them overlap, contradict, define, and constantly redefine the parameters for conversation. I can say for certain that I still believe that “what we believe” is important. Our beliefs inform all we that do. But how we live, what we do with this little bit of time we have, that’s the penultimate testament to who we are as human beings. Our beliefs – both personal and systemic – merely provide the language, the context for the final draft we hand in whenever our number is up.

Posted in Headlines, Music, Politics, Racism, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 10 Highwomen

When Brandi Carlile first made her mark in the Indie-Folk/Adult Alternative world in 2007 with her Grey’s Anatomy featured debut single, “The Story” I would have never guessed that a decade later she would go on to form an all-women country supergroup. But that’s probably because I wasn’t paying really close attention to the music world at the time. In retrospect it all makes sense, “The Story” was produced by none other than T-Bone Burnett. Carlile, like Burnett, has made a career of producing music that brings the fringes of folk, alternative, and outlaw country to mainstream audiences.

So, when Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires formed the Highwomen as the female answer to the male country supergroup the Highwaymen and rounded out the roster with Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby it all seems to somehow make sense now. Their Dave Cobb produced album, The Highwomen is as pure as country music gets. Cobb has produced for a number of my favorite artists doing contemporary “neotraditional” country and folk that blends and bends those definitions further with elements of roots, rock, pop, and alternative music: Jamey Johnson, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and my personal favorite, Ian Noe.

The album breathes a strong, independent, fierce, sensual, feminine, and feminist (in the best way) breath of fresh air into the still male-dominated world of Country music, hell the world of music in general. The album’s songs are packed with lush acoustic guitar and piano, much of both instruments are handled by Carlile. There are punctuation marks of old-time violin played by Shires. The songs on the album provide anthemic and often brilliant portraits of the lives of women: lovers, mothers, single women, working women, straight women, gay women, and on the album’s (and the group’s theme song) a strong black woman.

The decision to remake the group’s theme song to the tune of the original Highwaymen theme song was bold. As Carlile described in Roling Stone, of the ladies giving the old country, outlaw, ghost anthem an update:

[Their characters] all died doing things that men do,” says Carlile. “Willie was a bandit. Johnny Cash drove a fucking starship, nobody knows why. We rewrote it with fates that befell women: a doctor convicted of witchcraft; an immigrant who died trying to get over the border but got the kids over safe and sound; a preacher; and a freedom rider who gets shot.

It is perhaps the decision to include the story of a black freedom rider on their theme song that was the group’s boldest and riskiest move. Maren Morris sits out on her lead vocal duties on the album’s lead track and the Supergroup’s theme song. In her usual place is Yola Carter (formerly of Phantom Limb and a powerhouse of a vocalist in her own right) singing a verse only a black woman can sing: the story of a freedom rider killed in the bus attacks carried out by white supremacists groups in the south, in this instance in Virginia in 1961. I mean theses kick-ass women made a theme song that doesn’t include one of their key members. This is a key “Character” to the group, to the degree that The Highwomen is a re-envisioning of The Highwaymen. It’s as if Carlile, Shires, Morris, and Hemby know that no circle of women singing feminist anthems is complete if it only includes white women.

And that’s why it makes it to today’s Apocalyptic Playlist track. These women aren’t making merely feminist country music. They’re at least attempting to make inclusive feminist country. It may not be consciously womanist, but it is at least intentional about the inclusion of black bodies when they sing their song of women outlaws who laid their lives down to change the world and now live on.

After all, the roots of Country Music, like all almost all forms of American music trace their roots to black music: the banjo, the gospel choir. Country, perhaps even more than Rock and Roll, has become a predominately white art, deeply indebted to black art. Not just Charley Pride and Darius Rucker, though they’ve made some fine contributions. But Country music is deeply indebted to traditional African American Music that goes all the way back to slave spirituals and field songs.

Bravo ladies! Folks we are never going to make it as a society though if the lives and bodies of all women and in particular black women and other women of color aren’t seen as more than symbols of powerful women from the past and still today, as tokens, tools, useful for their electability and the power of their potential voting block. That’s the way public discourse about potential VP running mates for Joe Biden seems to be taking place. And the way the public seems disinterested in the acts of aggression both presidential candidates have committed against women is just astounding. We need to be reminded still – and sadly more than ever – that the lives of women – all women – matter!

As always, please enjoy, subscribe, follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I always appreciate when you folks share these posts on social media. Thank you so much for those of you that have been doing so! Please remember to include the hashtag #PlaylistfortheApocalypse

And please, whether you’re in quarantine, an essential worker, or in a place that is back open if you’re enjoying the posts and the playlist, say hi, feel free to introduce yourself or interact. I am always up for community building. And as I’ve said I am in Michigan, with a stay at home order, now expanded until March 28. So if you have requests for content, questions, or comments it looks like I am going to be having some more time on my hands when this playlist ends next week. Until Monday, Namaste.

*It seems WordPress and Spotify are still not getting along. Apparently, I’m not the first or only one this has effected. Sorry, but for now, no embedded playlists.

Posted in Headlines, Music, Politics, Religion, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 09 Don’t Worry If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go

Curtis Mayfield released “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go” in November of 1970. As part of the Soul/R&B vocal group, The Impressions, Mayfield had already given the world “People Get Ready” in 1965, which helped to provide a soundtrack for the civil rights movement. In 1965, JFK had just been assassinated. But there was still hope in the air that we breathed. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “People Get Ready” the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The song was used to provide solace and motivation to marchers.

The public mood had definitely shifted in the five years between the uplifting Impressions track and “Don’t Worry” in 1970. The US was a mess of social unrest: deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War. The summer of 1969 brought American young people Woodstock. However, the stabbing and death of Meredith Curly Hunter, Jr. in October of 1969 at a Rolling Stones concert had revealed that the dream of “all god’s children” singing and holding hands was yet a ways off.

It was in this environment of social unrest, confusion, and rebellion that Mayfield released his first solo project. “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go” was the first song and first single released from Mayfield’s 1970, debut solo album, simply titled Curtis. The first words people heard from the “People Get Ready” artist, gone solo were: “Sisters, n___rs, whites, Jews, and the crackers: Don’t worry, if there’s hell below, we’re all gonna go.” And then Curtis screams as a fuzzy bassline gives way to a funky explosion of sound.

Like the songs from the 1960s that made the Playlist last week, we can see that Curtis Mayfield was addressing many of the same problems we are still facing today: crooked police, “political actors,” drug abuse, “catcalling, love balling, fussing and cussing.” He also expresses angst about pollution (this was the same year as the first Eart Day) and he namechecks Richard Nixon, who in his first year of office was trying to assure people not to worry. He also went on to – as we all know – do some very corrupt things. His rally cry in the post-JFK, post-LBJ, world was “unity.” In his Inaugural address, Nixon said, “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”

While that sounds like really great advice, how did the be quiet let’s all just get along and let the government do what they do approach work out for the American people? How are we here? 50 years later? Same problems!?!?! Now with a pandemic on top!?!?! And supporters of two of the worst presidential candidates in history, want us all to just get in line and choose the brown pill or the red one? How can we be quiet? I don’t know what all the answers are. But I know it starts with love. And I agree with Mayfield, if there’s Hell below, we’re all gonna go. Of course, I don’t believe in a literal Hell. But we all got ourselves into this mess. We have been living a lifestyle that is unsustainable in a multitude of ways for so long. It seems everyone has a hustle from the police and political actors, to the fussing and cussing dealer, pimp or… hustler. #PlaylistfortheApocalypse